Lice Happens

So if you were wondering where I’ve been these last few weeks, I can only say “thank you” for noticing that I haven’t written in a while.  I have no excuse but that I spent spring break . . . completely grossed out.  You thought I was going to write that I’d gone somewhere tropical, but in fact, we stayed put with our house guests: head lice.  

Two upsides to this experience:

1)      I learned some new stuff.  2) I discovered that my neighbor cuts hair really well.

You probably don’t want me to walk you through this—you’re scratching already, I know it—but for therapeutic reasons I will continue the story.  Read on, if you will. 

Once upon a time I didn’t know anything about lice.  I would receive a note home from school on occasion, a note I dutifully read about how a classmate of one of my girls had lice.  I would check heads that day, resolve they were lice-free, recycle the note home and never think about it again.

Until one day, just before Easter, the girls and I went to Pigtails and Crewcuts.  Again, it was just before Easter–there was an hour-long wait.  Finally, one of my girls got seated in the airplane chair, and the hairdresser found lice.  The kids and I promptly (and I do mean promptly) left.  Note here: the Pigtails staff was terrific.  The hairdresser was calm and kind and did not startle my girls; no customers rushed screaming out of the place.  I turned beet-red and lost oxygen, but my kids were just fine, wondering if they could still score a lollipop, which they did.

I soul-searched on the way home—how did this happen?  Did I get a note from school recently?  My daughter had been feeling itchy and I thought it was dry skin…am I a complete idiot?  Where is my husband right now…might he be vacuuming?  Do we have to move out of our home? 


I had zero experience with lice prior to that week.  I suppose I could have handled it all myself, but I didn’t.  I called my friend MJ who co-owns Lice Happens, and she arrived that day with two stools, pesticide-free lice treatment product, a special comb, and funky-looking magnifying glass head gear. 

MJ’s from Jersey, so she’ll tell it like it is—and for my oldest daughter, it was an extreme case.  We spent quality time catching up, which was nice (but, Lice Happens does charge hourly).  

When and if this happens again, I will not panic.  MJ helped me calm down and stay calm after, even days after when I was still finding nits.  Nits, you ask?

Lice come in three stages: nit (egg), nymph (baby), and adult. 

I love word-origin trivia—grew up in a family that would send someone shuffling to the keg-sized dictionary perched on its own stand in the hallway to look up some ridiculous word no one’s ever actually used—but I never before this past week thought much about the expressions “nit-picking” and going over something with a “fine tooth comb.”  I get it now. 

And as an English teacher, when I thought “nymph,” I thought tiny maiden in sheer, flowy dress catering to irritable Greek goddess.  I now picture a freshly hatched nasty six-legged slightly moving speck of making-my-skin-crawl. 

And those adults?  O.M.G.

 MJ said, “Do you feel guilty when your kid gets a mosquito bite?” and in the age of West Nile, I hesitate before saying, “No.”  But, mosquitoes annoy; lice violate.  You swat mosquitoes when you’re camping, feeling as if you’ve accomplished something when you see them smashed and unmoving against your arm.  Lice are the ones taking action; they’re actually camping on your child’s head.  Sure, a mosquito is a blood-sucker, too, but there’s just something big league about lice.  I’ve somehow failed here.

MJ did her best to convince me otherwise.   (Her company motto: No Shame. No Blame.)  And she taught me more than I’ve ever really wanted to know about lice.

The nits and nymphs don’t travel; they just sit around looking pretty.  The adults relocate, but they live on human heads only—they can’t get by on Fido the dog, or on a stuffed animal, or on a shag rug.  And lice have been around for a long time (nits were found on the hair of a 4th century Egyptian mummy; Aristotle had a theory on lice later proved wrong by Louis Pasteur), so they know the difference between a human head, and a house pet or a car seat or a teddy bear.  And they choose heads.

Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I cleaned feverishly.  We laundered sheets; we vacuumed; we scrubbed brushes and shoved hair supplies in the freezer.  We washed the MVP- stuffed animals and tumbled the rest in the hot dryer for 30 minutes.  

We’ve been combing our kids’ hair with a special comb every day since. 

I took dull shears to my oldest daughter’s hair two days into the process.  My neighbor, who runs a local salon, straightened it all out, and the girls looked adorable in the Easter pictures. 

In fact, despite the drama, we had a jam-packed week off—beautiful weather, bike rides, playgrounds, egg hunts, fun-with-friends, good books, good eats. 

All in all, it was a lousy spring break.   Get it?  Late 14 c., lousi, “infested with lice” from louse + -y.  Figurative use as a generic term of abuse dates from late 14 c.; sense of “swarming with” (money, etc.) is Amer. Eng. slang from 1843.

published on  April 2012

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